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Court: Colorado Day of Prayer Is Unconstitutional

Governors' proclamations 'undermine the premise' that believers and nonbelievers are served equally, Colorado Court of Appeals rules.

Proclamations by Colorado governors for a state Day of Prayer are unconstitutional, the Colorado Court of Appeals recently ruled.

The three-judge panel ruled on state Day of Prayer proclamations issued from 2004 to 2009 after the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) challenged them. The court unanimously agreed that Colorado's Day of Prayer is "predominantly religious," thereby violating nonbelievers' constitutional rights.

"[The proclamations] reflect an official belief in a God who answers prayers," the court wrote. "At the same time, for those who do not believe in such a God, the proclamations tend to indicate that their nonbelief is not shared by the government that rules the State. In doing so, they undermine the premise that the government serves believers and nonbelievers equally."

The court did not make any judgment on the National Day of Prayer, and it was quick to point out that its decision did not affect anyone's right to pray.

Instead, the court wrote, the decision centered on the idea that "religious liberty protected by the Constitution is abridged when the State [sic] affirmatively sponsors the particular religious practice of prayer."

In 2010, a U.S. District Judge ruled the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional after the FFRF filed suit. The Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later overturned that ruling, stating the FFRF did not have standing because "a feeling of alienation cannot suffice as injury in fact."

But the Colorado court ruled the FFRF had standing for this case, noting, "Unlike the narrower federal test for standing, plaintiffs in Colorado benefit from a relatively broad definition of the concept."

The case was sent back to a trial court, which will consider whether a permanent injunction should be issued to prevent further proclamations for a Day of Prayer.

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